This will be a brutal Test series. South Africa know only one way, and even if the Lions want to play a more open style of rugby, they will have to deal with the physical onslaught first.
We will discuss the three-quarters later but success will depend on who wins the battles in three key areas.
The three fundamentals of South African rugby – the scrum, the collisions around the fringes and the aerial game.
Without parity in these areas, forget it.
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The scrum is the embodiment of the Springbok attitude. It is a straightforward contest of which side is the strongest.
What’s fascinating is that despite the number of scrums having declined in general terms as the game has evolved, they are even more influential than before.
The scrum was the decisive factor in the first Test 12 years ago as Phil Vickery was marmalised by Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira. It was also a dominant aspect of the World Cup win in 2019 over England.
It gives the Springboks penalties, field position and points. It also disrupts opposition starter plays, but most importantly, it feeds South African mentality that they are dominating the contest.
Luke Cowan Dickie has been eye-catching in the loose, he is dynamic while carrying and has been effective at chop tackling, but are these the assets needed in this Test?
I would have picked the strongest scrummager, which Cowan-Dickie may be. But that would be my criteria, scrum first, the other stuff second.
The referee for the first match is an Australian and former scrum-half. Will Nic Berry permit the teams to scrummage?
Will he pick a winner and penalise the loser, or will he force them to get the ball out of the scrum and play, rather than re-set?
His interpretation will be crucial.
When it comes to the battle around the fringes, I think the Springboks made a mistake by playing so many Test players in the South Africa A game. That game provided the Lions with a real eye-opener as to what to expect when the real business begins.
I understand why South Africa felt they needed game time but they provided the Lions with a first-hand experience of the intensity they will face in these next three games.
The gap between the warm-up games against the South African provinces and Test matches is huge. The Lions may have had their moments on tour, but they have been very comfortable wins in the end.
I’m sure the Lions have talked endlessly about the ferocity of the battle ahead – but that’s different to experiencing it. They’ve felt the hits, they’ve felt the pressure of the onrushing defence and you can’t replicate that in any team meeting or training session.
The Lions have gone with the most physical back five of the pack that they had. Jack Conan is better at that than Taulupe Faletau, and the Welsh number 8 has not shone in the looser warm up matches either, when he had to show his worth. Courtney Lawes and Tom Curry will also hope to meet the Springboks’ physical challenge head on.
The Lions have also had an insight into the kicking game they will face in Cape Town.
The Springboks will kick mostly from scrum-half, and on the rare occasions Faf de Klerk decides to pass, Handre Pollard will kick from 10. Rest assured, someone will kick it.
It is a tactic of applying further pressure on the opposition. South Africa are completely liberated from the idea that they should try and play in a positive manner, or that this series is a chance to try and entertain anyone or be a global advert for rugby union.
South Africa will drag teams into a kicking battle where they feel most comfortable and pounce on errors as the opposition try to escape from their grip. They have enthusiastic chasers that are not always connected to each other, but the accuracy of the kicks is what gives them the edge.
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That being accepted, I was surprised not to see Josh Adams in the Lions starting line-up. He has a low error count. His work rate is the best of the wingers and he is excellent in the air.
Duham Van Der Merwe is a big powerful runner and Gatland likes a big winger, as he showed by making Alex Cuthbert a Test Lion in 2013. Space will be at a premium and I would have chosen a more secure pair of hands.
Kicks will rain down on the Scot. Can he cope?
So, can the Lions stand firm in the scrum, withstand the pressure in the collisions and not make mistakes in the air?
Yes, just about. What I am more confident about is that if they do manage to deal with the above, they have the ability to win the first game.
That has been the blueprint for Wales against South Africa during Gatland’s tenure. Stay in the fight, keep it tight and take your points.
After that loss to South Africa A, I was even more pessimistic than usual about the Lions’ chances, but for some reason I’m feeling more confident that they will won’t be overwhelmed.
It must be the Alun Wyn Jones effect.
I am looking forward to a tense, enthralling contest that will not be for the faint.
But I fear a narrow South African win.
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Watch highlights of South Africa v Lions at 10.30pm on Saturday night on S4C. Lauren Jenkins will host coverage, with analysis from Shane Williams, Sioned Harries, Bryan Habana and Tommy Bowe, and commentary from Gareth Charles, Gwyn Jones and Jonathan Davies.